Suit: Election Day deadline to receive mailed ballots disenfranchises voters

Indiana law that says mail-in ballots must be received by noon on Election Day will disenfranchise voters and should be blocked, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday says.

Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP filed the suit against Secretary of State Connie Lawson and members of the Indiana Election Commission. The suit says that a spike in requests for mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely lead to mail delays. The case says ballots should be accepted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day.

“Voting is fundamental to our democracy; it is a right that must be protected and encouraged,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the NAACP Indiana State Conference. “The arbitrary receipt deadline of noon on Election Day for mail-in ballots is a barrier to this right. A ballot entrusted to the United States Postal Service quite possibly may not be delivered until 12:01 PM, or after, on Election Day. The best practice is to look for the date that the ballot was posted. So long as it was posted, prior to or on Election Day, it must be counted.”

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which will represent the state in this litigation, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit.

Lawson declined requests to extend the Election Day receipt deadline during the June primary election.

The plaintiffs are being represented in the case by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Indianapolis attorneys Bill Groth and Mark Sniderman.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction and a declaratory judgment that the noon Election Day receipt deadline violates the First and 14th Amendments on its face and as applied to the Nov. 3 election.

“While even in the best of times the Noon Election Day Receipt Deadline disenfranchises voters, this is not the best of times,” the suit says. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of new and significant challenges for voters and election officials, including serious health risks to in-person voting and significant delays in mail-in ballot delivery. The availability of voting by mail is essential to conducting a safe and accessible election during the pandemic. However, the pandemic has also created conditions that make it more difficult — or even impossible — for Indiana voters to successfully comply with the Noon Election Day Receipt Deadline for mail-in ballots.”

The case before Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker is Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP v. Connie Lawson, et al., 1:20-cv-2007.

Separately, the grassroots group Indiana Vote By Mail moved for an injunction in June in its suit seeking to allow no-excuse mail-in voting in the Hoosier State because the plaintiffs say voters would still be at risk of contracting COVID-19 if required to vote in person. That case before Judge J.P. Hanlon, Barbara Tully, et al. v. Paul Okeson, et al, 1:20-cv-01271, also represented by Groth and Sniderman, is still pending in the Southern District.

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